At least 10 soldiers were killed and another 50 were reported missing after friendly fire caused a South Sudanese military boat to sink on the Nile river, the army said Saturday.
“It was an accident. The boat was travelling at night and passed before a (control) post at Lul, which tried to stop the boat. When it did not stop they fired at the boat and it sank,” army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP, adding that there were about 170 soldiers on board.
“Ten bodies were retrieved from the water... there are about 50 still missing,” he said, adding that 112 survivors were picked up following the accident on Wednesday.
He dismissed as “lies” a statement by rebel group the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) that 108 had died and 73 managed to swim ashore after the vessel was hit by a rocket propelled grenade in an exchange of fire.
South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 after decades of civil war.
Transforming its former guerrilla movement into a fully functioning government and proper army is one of the new nation’s biggest challenges as is reining in militia groups.
In what analysts describe as a “proxy war” between the two former civil war partners, South Sudan claims that rebel militia groups are funded by Khartoum, while Sudan says that rebels in two of its rump states that formerly fought alongside the South still receive its support.
The two countries are currently in African Union-led talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to try and find a deal on border security.